Batak (Indonesia)
Overview
Batak is a collective term used to identify a number of ethnic groups predominantly found in North Sumatra
Sumatra
Sumatra is an island in western Indonesia, westernmost of the Sunda Islands. It is the largest island entirely in Indonesia , and the sixth largest island in the world at 473,481 km2 with a population of 50,365,538...

, Indonesia
Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

. The term is used to include the Toba
Batak Toba people
The Batak Toba people, also called Toba people or often simply 'Batak', are the most numerous of the Batak people of North Sumatra, Indonesia, and often considered the classical 'Batak', most likely to willingly self-identify as Batak. The Batak Toba people speak in the Toba Batak language and are...

, Karo, Pakpak, Simalungun
Simalungun people
The Simalungun people are an ethnic group in North Sumatra, considered one of the Batak peoples. Simalungun people live mostly in Simalungun Regency and the surrounding areas, including the city of Pematang Siantar, an autonomous city, but previously part of Simalungun Regency.The Simalungun live...

, Angkola and Mandailing
Mandailing
The Mandailing is a traditional cultural group in Southeast Asia. They are found mainly in the northern section of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. They came under the influence of the Kaum Padri who ruled the Minangkabau of Tanah Datar. As a result, the Mandailing were influenced by Muslim...

, each of which are distinct but related groups with distinct, albeit related, languages and customs (adat
Adat
Adat in Indonesian-Malay culture is the set of cultural norms, values, customs and practices found among specific ethnic groups in Indonesia, the southern Philippines and Malaysia...

). Occasionally it is also used to include the Alas people of Central/Southern Aceh
Aceh
Aceh is a special region of Indonesia, located on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra. Its full name is Daerah Istimewa Aceh , Nanggroë Aceh Darussalam and Aceh . Past spellings of its name include Acheh, Atjeh and Achin...

, but usually only as relates to language groups.

In North Sumatra, Toba people typically assert their identity as 'Batak', while other 'Bataks' may explicitly reject that label, preferring instead to identify as specifically 'Simalungun', 'Karo', etc.
Linguistic and archeological evidence indicates that Austronesian speakers first reached Sumatra from Taiwan
Taiwan
Taiwan , also known, especially in the past, as Formosa , is the largest island of the same-named island group of East Asia in the western Pacific Ocean and located off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The island forms over 99% of the current territory of the Republic of China following...

 and the Philippines
Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

 through Borneo and/or Java about 2,500 years ago, and the Batak probably evolved from these settlers.
Encyclopedia
Batak is a collective term used to identify a number of ethnic groups predominantly found in North Sumatra
Sumatra
Sumatra is an island in western Indonesia, westernmost of the Sunda Islands. It is the largest island entirely in Indonesia , and the sixth largest island in the world at 473,481 km2 with a population of 50,365,538...

, Indonesia
Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

. The term is used to include the Toba
Batak Toba people
The Batak Toba people, also called Toba people or often simply 'Batak', are the most numerous of the Batak people of North Sumatra, Indonesia, and often considered the classical 'Batak', most likely to willingly self-identify as Batak. The Batak Toba people speak in the Toba Batak language and are...

, Karo, Pakpak, Simalungun
Simalungun people
The Simalungun people are an ethnic group in North Sumatra, considered one of the Batak peoples. Simalungun people live mostly in Simalungun Regency and the surrounding areas, including the city of Pematang Siantar, an autonomous city, but previously part of Simalungun Regency.The Simalungun live...

, Angkola and Mandailing
Mandailing
The Mandailing is a traditional cultural group in Southeast Asia. They are found mainly in the northern section of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. They came under the influence of the Kaum Padri who ruled the Minangkabau of Tanah Datar. As a result, the Mandailing were influenced by Muslim...

, each of which are distinct but related groups with distinct, albeit related, languages and customs (adat
Adat
Adat in Indonesian-Malay culture is the set of cultural norms, values, customs and practices found among specific ethnic groups in Indonesia, the southern Philippines and Malaysia...

). Occasionally it is also used to include the Alas people of Central/Southern Aceh
Aceh
Aceh is a special region of Indonesia, located on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra. Its full name is Daerah Istimewa Aceh , Nanggroë Aceh Darussalam and Aceh . Past spellings of its name include Acheh, Atjeh and Achin...

, but usually only as relates to language groups.

In North Sumatra, Toba people typically assert their identity as 'Batak', while other 'Bataks' may explicitly reject that label, preferring instead to identify as specifically 'Simalungun', 'Karo', etc.

Prehistory

Linguistic and archeological evidence indicates that Austronesian speakers first reached Sumatra from Taiwan
Taiwan
Taiwan , also known, especially in the past, as Formosa , is the largest island of the same-named island group of East Asia in the western Pacific Ocean and located off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The island forms over 99% of the current territory of the Republic of China following...

 and the Philippines
Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

 through Borneo and/or Java about 2,500 years ago, and the Batak probably evolved from these settlers. While the archaeology of southern Sumatra testifies the existence of neolithic settlers it seems that the northern part of Sumatra was settled by agriculturalists at a considerably later stage.
Although the Batak are often considered to be isolated peoples, largely because they were inland, away by seafaring European colonials, there is evidence that they have been involved with trade and contact with other neighbouring kingdoms for a millennium or more. The 'Bata' were possibly documented in Zhao Rugua
Zhao Rugua
Zhao Rugua was a customs inspector at the city of Quanzhou during the late Song dynasty who wrote a two-volume book called Zhufan Zhi around 1225 CE...

's 'Description of the Barbarous People', which refers to a 'Ba-ta' dependency of Srivijaya
Srivijaya
Srivijaya was a powerful ancient thalassocratic Malay empire based on the island of Sumatra, modern day Indonesia, which influenced much of Southeast Asia. The earliest solid proof of its existence dates from the 7th century; a Chinese monk, I-Tsing, wrote that he visited Srivijaya in 671 for 6...

. The Suma Oriental, of the 15th century, refers to the kingdom of Bata, bounded by Pasai
Pasai
Pasai, also known as Samudera and Samudera-Pasai sometimes called Samudera Darussalam was a Muslim harbour kingdom on the north coast of Sumatra from the 13th to the 15th centuries CE. It was believed the word Samudera derived from Samudra meaning ocean in Sanskrit...

 and Aru
Aru
Aru and ARU may refer to:Aru* Name of Lady in India* Aru Islands, a group of islands in the Moluccas* Sultanate of Deli , an early Islamic polity in northeast Sumatra* Aru, Democratic Republic of Congo, a town in Ituri province...

. Reliable historical records of the Batak before 1800 are almost non-existent.

The Bataks were likely involved with trade with Srivijaya
Srivijaya
Srivijaya was a powerful ancient thalassocratic Malay empire based on the island of Sumatra, modern day Indonesia, which influenced much of Southeast Asia. The earliest solid proof of its existence dates from the 7th century; a Chinese monk, I-Tsing, wrote that he visited Srivijaya in 671 for 6...

 for benzoin
Styrax
Styrax is a genus of about 130 species of large shrubs or small trees in the family Styracaceae, mostly native to warm temperate to tropical regions of the Northern Hemisphere, with the majority in eastern and southeastern Asia, but also crossing the equator in South America...

 and camphor
Camphor
Camphor is a waxy, white or transparent solid with a strong, aromatic odor. It is a terpenoid with the chemical formula C10H16O. It is found in wood of the camphor laurel , a large evergreen tree found in Asia and also of Dryobalanops aromatica, a giant of the Bornean forests...

, both of which were important commodities for trade with China, and grew in the Batak lands of Northwest Sumatra, perhaps from the eighth or ninth centuries, and continuing for the next thousand years, Batak men carrying the products on their backs for sale at ports.

It is suggested that the important port of Barus, in Tapanuli was populated primarily by Batak people. A Tamil
Tamil language
Tamil is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by Tamil people of the Indian subcontinent. It has official status in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and in the Indian union territory of Pondicherry. Tamil is also an official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore...

 inscription has been found in Barus dated 1088, while contact with Chinese and Tamil traders took place at Kota Cina, established in the eleventh century, and comprising 10,000 people by the twelfth century. Tamil remains have been found on key trade routes to the Batak lands.

These trading opportunities may have caused migration of Batak from Pakpak and Toba to the current day Karo and Simalungun 'frontier' lands, where they were exposed to greater influence from visiting Tamil traders, while the migration of Batak to the Angkola-Mandailing lands may have been prompted by eight-century Srivijayan demand for camphor.

The Karo marga 'Sembiring', meaning 'black one' is believed to originate from their ties with Tamil traders, with specific Sembiring sub-marga, namely Brahmana, Colia, Pandia, Depari, Meliala, Muham, Pelawi, and Tekan all of Indian origin. Tamil influence on Karo religious practices are also noted, with the pekualuh secondary cremation ritual specific to the Karo and Dairi people.

From the sixteenth century onwards, Aceh
Aceh
Aceh is a special region of Indonesia, located on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra. Its full name is Daerah Istimewa Aceh , Nanggroë Aceh Darussalam and Aceh . Past spellings of its name include Acheh, Atjeh and Achin...

 increased the production of pepper
Black pepper
Black pepper is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. The fruit, known as a peppercorn when dried, is approximately in diameter, dark red when fully mature, and, like all drupes, contains a single seed...

, an important export commodity, and in doing so needed to import rice, which grew well on the Batak wetlands. Batak people in different areas cultivated either 'sawah' (wet ricefields) or 'ladang' (dry rice), and Toba Batak, most expert in agriculture, would have migrated to meet demand in new areas. The increasing importance of rice had religious significance, increasing the power of the Batak high priests, who had responsibility for ensuring agricultural success.

Language

Batak speak a variety of closely related languages, all members of the Austronesian language
Austronesian languages
The Austronesian languages are a language family widely dispersed throughout the islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, with a few members spoken on continental Asia that are spoken by about 386 million people. It is on par with Indo-European, Niger-Congo, Afroasiatic and Uralic as one of the...

 family. There are two major branches, a northern branch comprising the Pakpak-Dairi, Alas-Kluet and Karo
Batak Karo language
Batak Karo, referred to in Indonesia simply as Bahasa Karo , is an Austronesian language that is spoken by the Karo people of Indonesia. It is used by around 600,000 people in North Sumatra...

 languages that are similar to each other but distinctly different from the languages of the southern branch comprising three mutually intelligible dialects: Toba
Batak Toba language
The Batak Toba language is an Austronesian language spoken in North Sumatra province in Indonesia. It is part of a group of languages called "Batak".There are approximately 2,000,000 Batak Toba speakers, living west of Lake Toba...

, Angkola and Mandailing. Simalungun is an early offspring of the southern branch. Some Simalungun dialects can be understood by speakers of Batak Karo whereas other dialects of Simalungun can be understood by speakers of Toba. This is due to the existence of a linguistic continuum that often blurs the lines between the Batak dialects.

The Batak possess their own script known as the Surat Batak.
The writing has chiefly ceremonial importance within traditional religious ceremonies, and was subject to little change for this reason. It is likely that the Batak people received their writing system from southern Sumatra.

Society

Batak societies are patriarchally
Patriarchy
Patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination...

 organized along clans known as Marga
Marga (Batak)
Marga is a term in Batak societies referring to a clan name. The term is derived either from the Sanskrit varga, meaning company, party, or group, or, more likely, from the Sanskrit marga, meaning 'road, way or path', referring to a people of 'one origin'.Batak marga are patrilineal...

. A traditional belief among the Toba Batak is that they originate from one ancestor "Si Raja Batak", with all Margas, descended from him. A family tree that defines the father-son relationship among Batak people is called tarombo
Tarombo
Tarombo is a term for 'genealogy' in Batak culture/language. Bataknese believe that they all come from the same ancestor: Siraja Batak. They keep the genealogy line traced back to this ancestor. Its origins have been clouded by legend....

. In contemporary Indonesia, Batak people have a strong focus on education and a prominent position within the professions, particularly as teachers, engineers, doctors and lawyers. Toba Batak are known traditionally for their weaving
Weaving
Weaving is a method of fabric production in which two distinct sets of yarns or threads are interlaced at right angles to form a fabric or cloth. The other methods are knitting, lace making and felting. The longitudinal threads are called the warp and the lateral threads are the weft or filling...

, wood carving
Wood carving
Wood carving is a form of working wood by means of a cutting tool in one hand or a chisel by two hands or with one hand on a chisel and one hand on a mallet, resulting in a wooden figure or figurine, or in the sculptural ornamentation of a wooden object...

 and especially ornate stone tombs.

Before they became subjects of the colonial Dutch East Indies
Dutch East Indies
The Dutch East Indies was a Dutch colony that became modern Indonesia following World War II. It was formed from the nationalised colonies of the Dutch East India Company, which came under the administration of the Netherlands government in 1800....

 government, the Batak had a reputation for being fierce warriors. Today the Batak are mostly Christian with a Muslim minority. Presently the largest Christian congregation in Indonesia is the HKBP (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan) Christian church. The dominant Christian theology
Theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

 was brought by Lutheran German missionaries in the 19th century, including the well-known missionary Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen
Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen
Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen was a German Lutheran missionary to Sumatra who also translated the New Testament into the native Batak language. Stephen Neill, a historian of missions, considered Nommensen one of the greatest missionaries of all time...

. Christianity was introduced to the Karo by Dutch
Dutch people
The Dutch people are an ethnic group native to the Netherlands. They share a common culture and speak the Dutch language. Dutch people and their descendants are found in migrant communities worldwide, notably in Suriname, Chile, Brazil, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and the United...

 Calvinist missionaries and their largest church is the GBKP (Gereja Batak Karo Protestan). The Mandailing
Mandailing
The Mandailing is a traditional cultural group in Southeast Asia. They are found mainly in the northern section of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. They came under the influence of the Kaum Padri who ruled the Minangkabau of Tanah Datar. As a result, the Mandailing were influenced by Muslim...

 and Angkola Batak were converted to Islam in the early 19th century. A significant minority of Batak people do not adhere to either Christianity or Islam, however, and follow traditional practices known as the agama si dekah, the old religion, which is also called perbegu or pemena.

Ritual cannibalism

Ritual cannibalism is well documented among Batak people, performed in order to strengthen the eater's tendi. In particular, the blood, heart, palms and soles of the feet were seen as rich in tendi.

In Marco Polo
Marco Polo
Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant traveler from the Venetian Republic whose travels are recorded in Il Milione, a book which did much to introduce Europeans to Central Asia and China. He learned about trading whilst his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, travelled through Asia and apparently...

’s memoirs of his stay on the east coast of Sumatra (then called Java Minor) from April to September of 1292, he mentions an encounter with hill folk whom he refers to as “man-eaters”. From secondary sources, Marco Polo recorded stories of ritual cannibalism among the "Battas". Marco Polo's stay was restricted to the coastal areas, and he never ventured inland to directly verify such claims. Despite never personally witnessing these events, he was nonetheless willing to pass on descriptions which were provided to him, in which a condemned man was eaten:
"They suffocate him. And when he is dead they have him cooked, and gather together all the dead man's kin, and eat him. And I assure you they do suck the very bones till not a particle of marrow remains in them...And so they eat him up stump and rump. And when they have thus eaten him they collect his bones and put them in fine chests, and carry them away, and place them in caverns among the mountains where no beast nor other creature can get at them. And you must know also that if they take prisoner a man of another country, and he cannot pay a ransom in coin, they kill him and eat him straightway.


The Venetian Niccolò de' Conti (1395–1469) spent most of 1421 in Sumatra in the course of a long trading journey to Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia, South-East Asia, South East Asia or Southeastern Asia is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea and north of Australia. The region lies on the intersection of geological plates, with heavy seismic...

 (1414–1439), and wrote a brief description of the inhabitants: "In a part of the island called Batech live cannibals who wage continual war on their neighbors.".

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in the 1820s studied the Batak and their rituals and laws regarding the consumption of human flesh, writing in detail about the transgressions that warranted such an act as well as their methods. Raffles stated that "It is usual for the people to eat their parents when too old to work," and that for certain crimes a criminal would be eaten alive: “The flesh is eaten raw or grilled, with lime, salt and a little rice.”.

The German physician and geographer Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn
Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn
Friedrich Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn , was a German botanist. His father, Friedrich Junghuhn was a barber and a surgeon. His mother was Christine Marie Schiele. Junghuhn studied medicine in Halle and in Berlin from 1827 to 1831, meanwhile publishing a seminal paper on mushrooms in Limnaea...

 visited the Batak lands in 1840-41. Junghuhn says about cannibalism among the Batak (whom he called "Battaer"):
“People do the honest Battaer an injustice when it is said that they sell human flesh in the markets, and that they slaughter their old people as soon as they are unfit for work...They eat human flesh only in wartime, when they are enraged, and in a few legal instances.”

Junghuhn tells how after a perilous and hungry flight he arrived in a friendly village, and the food that was offered by his hosts was the flesh of two prisoners who had been slaughtered the day before, however he maintains that the Batak exaggerated their love of human flesh in order to frighten off would-be invaders and to gain occasional employment as mercenaries for the coastal tribes who were plagued by pirates .

Oscar von Kessel visited Silindung in the 1840s and in 1844 was probably the first European to observe a Batak cannibalistic ritual in which a convicted adulterer was eaten alive. Interestingly, his description parallels that of Marsden in some important respects, however von Kessel states that cannibalism was regarded by the Batak as a judicial act and its application was restricted to very narrowly defined infringements of the law including theft, adultery
Adultery
Adultery is sexual infidelity to one's spouse, and is a form of extramarital sex. It originally referred only to sex between a woman who was married and a person other than her spouse. Even in cases of separation from one's spouse, an extramarital affair is still considered adultery.Adultery is...

, spying or treason. Salt, red pepper and lemons had to be provided by the relatives of the victim as a sign that they accepted the verdict
Verdict
In law, a verdict is the formal finding of fact made by a jury on matters or questions submitted to the jury by a judge. The term, from the Latin veredictum, literally means "to say the truth" and is derived from Middle English verdit, from Anglo-Norman: a compound of ver and dit In law, a verdict...

 of the community and were not thinking of revenge
Revenge
Revenge is a harmful action against a person or group in response to a grievance, be it real or perceived. It is also called payback, retribution, retaliation or vengeance; it may be characterized, justly or unjustly, as a form of justice.-Function in society:Some societies believe that the...

.

Ida Laura Pfeiffer
Ida Laura Pfeiffer
Ida Laura Pfeiffer , was an Austrian traveler and travel book author. She was one of the first female explorers, whose popular books were translated into seven languages...

 visited the Batak in August 1852 and although she did not observe any cannibalism, she was told that:
"Prisoners of war are tied to a tree and beheaded at once; but the blood is carefully preserved for drinking, and sometimes made into a kind of pudding with boiled rice. The body is then distributed; the ears, the nose, and the soles of the feet are the exclusive property of the Rajah, who has besides a claim on other portions. The palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, the flesh of the head, and the heart and liver, are reckoned peculiar delicacies, and the flesh in general is roasted and eaten with salt. The Regent
Regent
A regent, from the Latin regens "one who reigns", is a person selected to act as head of state because the ruler is a minor, not present, or debilitated. Currently there are only two ruling Regencies in the world, sovereign Liechtenstein and the Malaysian constitutive state of Terengganu...

s assured me, with a certain air of relish, that it was very good food, and that they had not the least objection to eat it. The women are not allowed to take part in these grand public dinners."


Dutch and German missionaries to the Batak in the late 19th century observed a few instances of cannibalism and wrote lurid descriptions to their home parish
Parish
A parish is a territorial unit historically under the pastoral care and clerical jurisdiction of one parish priest, who might be assisted in his pastoral duties by a curate or curates - also priests but not the parish priest - from a more or less central parish church with its associated organization...

es in order to raise donations. The growing Dutch influence in northern Sumatra led to increased Malay influence in coastal trade and plantations, pushing the Karo farther inland. Growing ethnics tensions culminated in the 1872 Karo Rebellion where the Karo were suppressed by Dutch and Malay forces. Despite this, Karo resistance to Dutch imperialism lingered into the early twentieth century. In 1890 the Dutch colonial government banned cannibalism in the regions under their control. Rumors of Batak cannibalism survived into the early 20th century but it seems probable that the custom was rare after 1816, due partially to the influence of Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

.

Geography

The Batak lands consist of North Sumatra
North Sumatra
North Sumatra is a province of Indonesia on the Sumatra island. Its capital is Medan. It is the most populous Indonesian province outside of Java. It is slightly larger than Sri Lanka in area.- Geography and population :...

 province, excluding Nias
Nias
Nīas is an island off the western coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. Nias is also the name of the archipelago, containing the Hinako archipelago....

 island and the historically Malay kingdoms of the East coast. In addition, part of the Karo lands extend into modern-day East Aceh Regency
East Aceh Regency
East Aceh Regency is a regency in eastern Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam. The regency covers an area of 6906 square kilometres and according to the 2000 census had a population of 628,288 people....

 in Aceh
Aceh
Aceh is a special region of Indonesia, located on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra. Its full name is Daerah Istimewa Aceh , Nanggroë Aceh Darussalam and Aceh . Past spellings of its name include Acheh, Atjeh and Achin...

 province, while parts of the Mandailing lands lie in Rokan Hulu
Rokan Hulu
Rokan Hulu is a regency of Riau, Indonesia. It has an area of 7224.6 km².The regency is divided into 12 subdistricts . The seat of the regency is located at Pasir Pengaraian....

 Regency in Riau. Significant numbers of Batak have migrated in recent years to prosperous neighbouring Riau province.

To the south of North Sumatra are the Muslim Minangkabau of West Sumatra
West Sumatra
West Sumatra is a province of Indonesia. It lies on the west coast of the island Sumatra. It borders the provinces of North Sumatra to the north, Riau and Jambi to the east, and Bengkulu to the southeast. It includes the Mentawai Islands off the coast...

, while to the north there are various Muslim Acehnese peoples.

Traditional Batak religion

The various Batak cultures differ in their pre-colonial religious ideas as they do in many other aspects of culture. Information about the old religious ideas of the Mandailing
Mandailing
The Mandailing is a traditional cultural group in Southeast Asia. They are found mainly in the northern section of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. They came under the influence of the Kaum Padri who ruled the Minangkabau of Tanah Datar. As a result, the Mandailing were influenced by Muslim...

 and Angkola in southern Batakland is incomplete, and very little is known about the religion of the Pakpak and Simalungun Batak. For the Toba and Karo on the other hand the evidence in the writings of missionaries and colonial administrators is relatively abundant. Information on the traditional forms of Batak religion is derived mainly from the writings of German
Germans
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

 and Dutch missionaries who became increasingly concerned with Batak beliefs towards the end of the 19th century.

Various influences affected the Batak through their contact with Tamil and Javanese traders and settlers in southern Batakland, and the east and west coast near Barus and Tapanuli, in particular the large Padang Lawas temple complex in Tapanuli. These contacts took place many centuries ago and it is impossible to reconstruct just how far the religious ideas of these foreigners were adopted and reworked by the Batak. It is suggested that the Bataks adopted aspects of these religions, specifically Mahayana Buddhist, Shaivist
Shaivism
Shaivism is one of the four major sects of Hinduism, the others being Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Smartism. Followers of Shaivism, called "Shaivas," and also "Saivas" or "Saivites," revere Shiva as the Supreme Being. Shaivas believe that Shiva is All and in all, the creator, preserver, destroyer,...

, and Tantrist
Tantra
Tantra , anglicised tantricism or tantrism or tantram, is the name scholars give to an inter-religious spiritual movement that arose in medieval India, expressed in scriptures ....

 practices within their own customs.

The modern Indonesian state is founded on the principles of pancasila, which requires the belief in 'one and only God', the practice of either Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism, one of which must be entered on an individual's KTP
Indonesian identity card
The Kartu Tanda Penduduk, commonly KTP, is an Indonesian identity card . Separate versions exist for Indonesian and non-Indonesian residents. The card is issued upon reaching the age of 17 or upon marriage. In the case of Indonesian citizens, the card must be renewed every 5 years...

. Traditional religions are not officially recognised, and accordingly traditional religions are increasingly marginalised, although aspects of the traditional Batak religion are still practised alongside Christianity, and, to a lesser extent, Islam.

Creation myths

There are many different versions in circulation. These were formerly passed down through oral tradition but have now been written down in the local languages. There are also large collections of Batak tales collected by European scholars since the mid-19th century and recorded in European languages, mostly Dutch.

At the beginning of time there was only the sky with a great sea beneath it. In the sky lived the gods and the sea was the home of a mighty underworld dragon
Dragon
A dragon is a legendary creature, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of many cultures. There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern...

 Naga Padoha. The earth did not yet exist and human beings, too, were as yet unknown. All the surviving myths record that at the beginning of creation stands the god Mula Jadi Na Bolon. His origin remains uncertain. A rough translation of the name is the "beginning of becoming". The creation of everything that exists can be traced back to him. Mula Jadi lives in the upper world which is usually thought of as divided into seven levels. His three sons, Batara Guru, Mangalabulan and Soripada were born from eggs laid by a hen fertilized by Mula Jadi. Two swallows act as messengers and helpers to Mula Jadi in his act of creation. Their functions vary in the different versions. Mula Jadi begets three daughters whom he gives as wives for his three sons. Mankind is the result of the union of the three couples. Besides the three sons of Mula Jadi there is another god, Asiasi, whose place and function in the world of the gods remains largely unclear. There is some evidence that Asiasi can be seen as the balance and unity of the trinity of gods.

The ruler of the underworld, i. e. the primeval sea, is the serpent-dragon Naga Padoha. He too existed before the beginning and seems to be the opponent of Mula Jadi. As ruler of the underworld Naga Padoha also has an important function in the creation of the earth.

What all the six gods so far mentioned have in common is that they play a minor role in ritual. They do not receive any sacrificial offerings from the faithful and no places of sacrifice
Sacrifice
Sacrifice is the offering of food, objects or the lives of animals or people to God or the gods as an act of propitiation or worship.While sacrifice often implies ritual killing, the term offering can be used for bloodless sacrifices of cereal food or artifacts...

 are built for them. They are merely called on in prayers for help and assistance.

The origin of the earth and of mankind is connected mainly with the daughter of Batara Guru, Sideak Parujar, who is the actual creator of the earth. She flees from her intended husband,
the lizard-shaped son of Mangalabulan, and lets herself down on a spun thread from the sky to the middle world which at that time was still just a watery waste. She refuses to go back but feels very unhappy. Out of compassion Mula Jadi sends his granddaughter a handful of earth so that she can find somewhere to live. Sideak Parudjar was ordered to spread out this earth and thus the earth became broad and long. But the goddess was not able to enjoy her rest for long. The earth had been spread out on the head of Naga Padoha, the dragon of the underworld who lived in the water. He groaned under the weight and attempted to get rid of it by rolling around. The earth was softened by water and threatened to be utterly destroyed. With the help of Mula Jadi and by her own cunning Sideak Parudjar was able to overcome the dragon. She thrust a sword into the body of Naga Padoha up to the hilt and laid him in an iron block. Whenever Naga Padoha twists in the fetters an earthquake occurs.

After the lizard-shaped son of Mangalabulan, the husband the gods intended for her, had taken another name and another form, Sideak Parujar marries him. Sideak Parujar becomes the mother of twins of different sexes. When the two have grown up their divine parents return to the upper world leaving the couple behind on the earth. Mankind
Mankind
Mankind may refer to:* The human species* Mankind , a 15th century morality play* Mankind , a 1998 massively multiplayer online real-time strategy game* Mankind , an album by Factory 81...

 is the result of their incestuous union.
The couple settle on Pusuk Buhit, a volcano on the western shore of Lake Toba
Lake Toba
Lake Toba is a lake and supervolcano. The lake is 100 kilometres long and 30 kilometres wide, and 505 metres at its deepest point. Located in the middle of the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra with a surface elevation of about , the lake stretches from to...

, and found the village of Si Anjur Mulamula. The mythological ancestor of the Batak, Si Raja Batak is one of their grandchildren.

The tendi cult

In the religious world of the Toba and Karo Batak the gods and the creation of mankind are far less significant than the complex concepts connected with the tendi (Karo) or tondi (Toba) and the begu. Probably the most useful translations of these terms are "life-soul" and "death-soul". A person receives his "life-soul" (tendi) from Mula Jadi Na Bolon before he is born. The destiny
Destiny
Destiny or fate refers to a predetermined course of events. It may be conceived as a predetermined future, whether in general or of an individual...

 of the individual tendi is decided by the tendi itself before birth. Various myths are woven around manner in which the tendi choose their destiny from Mula Jadi. Warneck, a missionary and for a long time superintendent (ephorus) of the Batak Church, recorded two particularly expressive myths in his major work on Batak religion. What is significant is that the tendi themselves are responsible for their destiny:
"Mula Jadi presents him with all kinds of things to choose from. If the tendi asks for ripe pepper, then the person whom he animates will be a poor fellow; if he asks for flowers, then he will live only a short time; if he asks for a hen, the person will be restless; rags indicate poverty; an old mat, lack of fame; a gold piece, wealth; plate, spear, medicine pot indicate that he will become a great chief or understand magic arts."

"With Mula Jadi in the upper world is a mighty tree called Djambubarus. Mula Jadi has written on all its leaves. On one leaf is written 'many children', on others 'wealth' or 'respect' and so on. 'Contemptible life', 'poverty', 'wretchedness' are also written on the leaves. All the possible different fates of the person are entered on the leaves. Every tendi that wishes to descend to the middle world must first ask Mula Jadi for one of the leaves. Whatever is written on the leaf chosen by him will be his destiny in the middle world."


Among the Karo and the Toba there are sometimes widely diverging versions of where the tendi dwells and how many tendi there are. According to the Toba a person has seven tendi. The second tendi is found in the placenta
Placenta
The placenta is an organ that connects the developing fetus to the uterine wall to allow nutrient uptake, waste elimination, and gas exchange via the mother's blood supply. "True" placentas are a defining characteristic of eutherian or "placental" mammals, but are also found in some snakes and...

 and amniotic fluid
Amniotic fluid
Amniotic fluid or liquor amnii is the nourishing and protecting liquid contained by the amniotic sac of a pregnant woman.- Development of amniotic fluid :...

 of the new-born baby, and accordingly the afterbirth is given special attention after the birth of a child. It is usually buried under the house, is called saudara (brother) and is regarded as the person's guardian spirit. Similar ideas about the afterbirth are also found among the Karo, who also bury the placenta and amniotic fluid under the house and regard them as two guardian spirits (kaka and agi) who always remain close to the person.

All Batak regard the loss of tendi as signifying a great danger for "body and soul". Tendi can be separated from their owners through inattentiveness, or as a result of black magic by a datu with evil intentions. In other words, the tendi is not tied to the body; it can also live for a time outside the body. The final loss of the tendi inevitably results in death. There are a variety of ideas about where exactly in the body the tendi dwells. It is present to a particularly high degree in certain parts of the body, especially the blood, the liver, the head and the heart. Sweat too is described as rich in tendi. It is believed that illnesses are connected with the absence of tendi, and the bringing back of the tendi is a main method of healing. The Karo, for instance, have gifts, called upah tendi (upah = wage, payment, gift), which they give to their tendi so that their tendi stay with them. These gifts may consist of a knife, a gong, a particular piece of clothing, a water buffalo or a small holy place. The gifts are carefully cared for in order to keep the tendi satisfied.

Tendi love the sound of the surdam (a bamboo flute). If a tendi has abandoned the body of a patient, the playing of the surdam in the raleng tendi ritual can contribute to the tendi returning to the body of the sick person. It must be emphasized that only the datuk are in a position to interpret and influence people's tendi correctly. If their endeavors are unsuccessful, then clearly the tendi has chosen another destiny for itself.

Death cult

At death the tendi leaves the human body through the fontanelle and the "death-soul" (begu) is set free. It is thought that the tendi vanishes and after the death of any human being only the begu continues to exist. The Batak believe that the begu continue to live near their previous dwelling (in a village of the dead which is thought to be situated not far from the
cemetery) and that they may contact their descendants. Bad dreams, particular misfortune and such like may be signs that the begu of an ancestor is not satisfied with the behavior of its descendants. Any individual can attempt to pacify an enraged begu by means of food and drink offerings and prayers. If this does not work, a datu or a guru must be called in. The begu are not immortal, since death also rules in the land of the dead: a begu dies seven times before it is changed into a straw and finally becomes earth.

The Batak believe that three categories of begu exist. The bicara guru are the begu of stillborn babies or of babies who have died before teething. It is possible to turn bicara guru into guardian spirits if misfortune has befallen the family of the child shortly after its death. With the help of a guru sibaso, the bicara guru can be made the family's guardian spirit for which a shrine is provided and to which sacrifices are regularly made. Once a year the bicara guru is accorded a special feast, preceded by ritual hair washing.

The begu of members of the family who have had a sudden death (mate sada-uari) can also act as guardian spirits for the family. They include the victims of accidents, suicides, murder victims, or people struck by lightning. A shrine is built where they are venerated and where sacrifices are made. A third category consists of the begu of dead virgins (tungkup). Their graves, called bata-bata or ingan tungkup, are maintained for a long time by their relatives.

Burial traditions

Batak burial
Burial
Burial is the act of placing a person or object into the ground. This is accomplished by excavating a pit or trench, placing an object in it, and covering it over.-History:...

 traditions are very rich and complex. Immediately after death various ritual actions are performed to make the begu understand that from now on its world is separate from that of its kin. Symbolically this is done by reversing the mat on which the corpse is laid
out so that the body lies with its head at the foot of the mat. Thumbs and toes respectively are tied together and the body is rubbed all over with camphor
Camphor
Camphor is a waxy, white or transparent solid with a strong, aromatic odor. It is a terpenoid with the chemical formula C10H16O. It is found in wood of the camphor laurel , a large evergreen tree found in Asia and also of Dryobalanops aromatica, a giant of the Bornean forests...

 and its orifices stopped with camphor, then it is wrapped in a white cotton cloth. During this perumah begu ceremony a guru sibaso declares to the begu of the deceased that it is definitely dead and must take leave of its relatives.

Wealthier families have their coffins (Karo: pelangkah) made of the wood of the kemiri tree (Ateurites rnoluccana), carved in the shape of a boat, its bow decorated with the carved head of a hornbill
Hornbill
Hornbills are a family of bird found in tropical and subtropical Africa, Asia and Melanesia. They are characterized by a long, down-curved bill which is frequently brightly-colored and sometimes has a casque on the upper mandible. Both the common English and the scientific name of the family...

, or a horse, or a mythical beast known as a singa
Singa (mythology)
thumbnail|A pupuk container, attribute of a datu , is often carved with an image of the singa, sometimes with other figures mounting on it....

. The lid is then sealed with resin
Resin
Resin in the most specific use of the term is a hydrocarbon secretion of many plants, particularly coniferous trees. Resins are valued for their chemical properties and associated uses, such as the production of varnishes, adhesives, and food glazing agents; as an important source of raw materials...

 and the coffin may be placed in a special location near the family's house until a reburial ceremony can take place (see below). Families that are not wealthy use simple wooden coffins or wrap the body in a straw mat.

The corpse is carried a few times round the house, usually by women, and then to the cemetery
Cemetery
A cemetery is a place in which dead bodies and cremated remains are buried. The term "cemetery" implies that the land is specifically designated as a burying ground. Cemeteries in the Western world are where the final ceremonies of death are observed...

 with musical accompaniment from the gondang orchestra and the continual firing of guns. At any crossroads the corpse is put down and eleven people go around it four times to confuse the begu. It is hoped that the begu will then be unable to find its way back to the village. When the funeral procession arrives at the cemetery the grave is dug and the corpse laid in it, flat on its back. Care is taken that the head lies towards the village so that, in the unexpected event that the body should get up, he or she will not be looking in the direction of the village. The bodies of datuk and those who have died from lightning are buried sitting up with their hands tied together. The palms of the hand are tied together and betel
Betel
The Betel is the leaf of a vine belonging to the Piperaceae family, which includes pepper and Kava. It is valued both as a mild stimulant and for its medicinal properties...

 placed between them.

Reburial

The burial tradition includes a reburial ceremony in which the bones of one's ancestors are reinterred several years after death. This secondary burial is known among the Toba Batak as mangongkal holi, among the Karo as nurun-nurun. In a ceremony lasting several days the bones of a particularly honored ancestor and those of his descendants are exhumed, cleaned, mourned and finally laid to rest again in a bone house known as a tugu or tambak:
"On the morning of the first day of the festival the graves in the cemetery are opened and the bones of the ancestors that are still there are removed. The unearthing of the skulls is presented as especially moving. The bones are collected in baskets lined with white cloth and then ritually cleaned by the women using the juice of various citrus
Citrus
Citrus is a common term and genus of flowering plants in the rue family, Rutaceae. Citrus is believed to have originated in the part of Southeast Asia bordered by Northeastern India, Myanmar and the Yunnan province of China...

 fruits. The exhumation and cleaning of the bones is accompanied by the singing of laments. The bones are kept in the baskets in the tugu until the next morning, when the remains are wrapped in traditional cloths (ulos) and transferred from the baskets to small wooden coffins. After long speeches and a communal prayer the coffins are nailed down and placed in the chambers of the tugu. A feast consisting of meat and rice follows and traditional dances are performed."


In ancient times these sarcophagi were carved from stone or constructed from wood and later brick. Nowadays they are made of cement or concrete. Large and very ornate tugu can be seen around Lake Toba and on the island of Samosir
Samosir
For the Regency named Samosir, see Samosir Regency.Samosir, or Samosir Island, is a large volcanic island in Lake Toba, located in the north of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Administratively, Samosir Island is governed as six of the nine districts within Samosir Regency. The lake and island...

.

One motive for the reburial ceremony appears to be to raise the status of the begu of the deceased. Traditional Batak beliefs hold that the dead occupy a hierarchical status similar to the social position they held in life. This means that a rich and powerful individual remains influential after death, and this status can be elevated if the family holds a reburial ceremony. A rich descendant can advance a begu to the status of a sumangot by means of a great ceremony and a horja feast which can last up to seven days. In antiquity a vast number of pigs, cattle or even buffalo were slaughtered at such festivals, and the gondang orchestra provided an accompaniment.

The next level up from the sumangot is the sombaon, who are the spirits of important ancestors who lived ten to twelve generations ago. To raise a sumangot to a sombaon requires another great festival, a santi rea, often lasting several months, during which the inhabitants of the whole district come together. These powerful ancestor spirits offer protection and good fortune to their descendants, but the ceremony also serves to establish new kinship
Kinship
Kinship is a relationship between any entities that share a genealogical origin, through either biological, cultural, or historical descent. And descent groups, lineages, etc. are treated in their own subsections....

 groups descended from the ancestor thus honored.

Traditional Batak medicine

In traditional Batak society datuk (animist priests) as well as gurus practiced traditional medicine
Traditional medicine
Traditional medicine comprises unscientific knowledge systems that developed over generations within various societies before the era of modern medicine...

, although the former were exclusively male. Both professions were attributed with supernatural powers and the ability to predict the future. Treatments and healing rituals bear some resemblance to those practiced by dukun
Dukun
A dukun is an Indonesian-Malay term for shaman. In Malaysia, they are often referred to as bomoh, but dukun is the more ancient term. Their societal role is that of a traditional healer, spirit medium, custom and tradition experts and on occasion sorcerers and masters of black magic.The dukun is...

s in other parts of Indonesia. Following the Christianization of the Toba and Karo Batak in the late 19th century, missionaries discouraged traditional healing and divination and they became largely clandestine
Clandestine operation
A clandestine operation is an intelligence or military operation carried out in such a way that the operation goes unnoticed.The United States Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms defines "clandestine operation" as "An operation sponsored or conducted by governmental...

 activities.

Both datuk and guru healers also practiced divination
Divination
Divination is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of an occultic standardized process or ritual...

 by consulting a pustaha, a handwritten book made of wood and bark in which were inscribed recipes for healing remedies, incantations and songs, predictive calendars, and other notes on magic, healing and divination written in poda, an archaic Batak shorthand. According to Winkler, there were three categories of Pustaha based on the purpose of their usage:
1. Protective Magic, which includes diagnosis, therapy, medicinal mixes which have magical properties, such as amulets, parmanisan (love charms), etc.
2. Destructive Magic, which encompasses the art of making poison, the art of controlling or utilizing the power of certain spirits, calling the pangulubalang, and the art of making dorma (magical formulas for causing a person to fall in love).
3. Divination, which involves oracles (words of the gods), the wishes of the spirits, commands from the gods and from the spirits of the ancestors, and an almanac
Almanac
An almanac is an annual publication that includes information such as weather forecasts, farmers' planting dates, and tide tables, containing tabular information in a particular field or fields often arranged according to the calendar etc...

 or calendrical system (porhalaan), and astrology
Astrology
Astrology consists of a number of belief systems which hold that there is a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world...

 to determine auspicious days and months to accomplish certain actions or goals.


The datu or guru consulted the pustaha when presented with a difficult problem, and in time this became in itself a ritual. When missionaries began to discourage traditional healing and augury the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 may have been adopted by some gurus in place of the pustaha.

Among the most important healing ceremonies performed in Toba and Karo communities is that of recalling the jinujung, or personal guardian spirit. According to Toba and Karo cosmology
Cosmology
Cosmology is the discipline that deals with the nature of the Universe as a whole. Cosmologists seek to understand the origin, evolution, structure, and ultimate fate of the Universe at large, as well as the natural laws that keep it in order...

, each person receives a jinujung in childhood or at puberty
Puberty
Puberty is the process of physical changes by which a child's body matures into an adult body capable of reproduction, as initiated by hormonal signals from the brain to the gonads; the ovaries in a girl, the testes in a boy...

 and they keep it for life unless they are unfortunate enough to lose it, in which case they will fall ill. In order to call the jinujung back, a female guru (guru sibaso in Karo) goes into a trance
Trance
Trance denotes a variety of processes, ecstasy, techniques, modalities and states of mind, awareness and consciousness. Trance states may occur involuntarily and unbidden.The term trance may be associated with meditation, magic, flow, and prayer...

 and the jinujung will enter into her and speak through her mouth. At this time the sick person or the family can negotiate ritual payment to entice it to return.

Traditional healers are not powerful enough to cure illness due to the loss of a person's tendi (this falls under the jurisdiction of the datuk), however they do play a role in communicating with begu and influencing their behavior.

Malim

Malim is the modern form of the Batak Toba religion. Practitioners of Malim are called Parmalim.

Non-Malim Batak peoples (those following Christian or Muslim faith) often continue to believe certain aspects of traditional Batak spiritual belief.

The 'Perodak-odak' movement among the Karo people in the 1960s was a reassertion of the traditional Karo religion, but has largely faded; a subsequent Karo movement to identify as Hindu
Hindu
Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

 was noted starting from the late 1970s in order to adopt, if only in name, one of the recognised religions of Indonesia
Pancasila
The Five Precepts constitute the basic Buddhist code of ethics, undertaken by lay followers of the Buddha Gautama in the Theravada as well as in Mahayana traditions. The precepts in both traditions are essentially identical and are commitments to abstain from harming living beings, stealing,...

, while in practice still following traditional beliefs.

Christianity

At the time of Marco Polo's visit in 1292 the people were described as "wild idolaters
Idolatry
Idolatry is a pejorative term for the worship of an idol, a physical object such as a cult image, as a god, or practices believed to verge on worship, such as giving undue honour and regard to created forms other than God. In all the Abrahamic religions idolatry is strongly forbidden, although...

" who had not been influenced by outside religions, however by Ibn Battuta
Ibn Battuta
Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta , or simply Ibn Battuta, also known as Shams ad–Din , was a Muslim Moroccan Berber explorer, known for his extensive travels published in the Rihla...

's visit in 1345 Arab
Arab
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...

 traders had established river-ports along the northern coasts of Sumatra and Sultan Al-Malik Al-Dhahir had recently converted to Islam.

Sir Stamford Raffles perceived the Batak lands as a buffer between the Islamic Aceh and Minang kingdoms, and encouraged Christian missionary work to preserve this. This policy was continued by the Dutch, who deemed the non-Muslim lands the 'Bataklanden'.

In 1824 two British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 Baptist
Baptist
Baptists comprise a group of Christian denominations and churches that subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers , and that it must be done by immersion...

 missionaries, Richard Burton and Nathaniel Ward, set off on foot from Sibolga
Sibolga
Sibolga is a city and a port on the west coast of North Sumatra province, in Indonesia. It is located on the western side of North Sumatra, facing the Indian Ocean and is a transit harbour to Nias island. It was hard hit during the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake.- History :Poncan Ketek Island in...

 and traveled through the Batak lands. After three days' journey they reached the high valley of Silindung and spent about two weeks in the Batak region. Considering the shortness of their stay their account reveals very intensive first-hand observation. This was followed in 1834 by Henry Lyman and Samuel Munson from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions
American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions
The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was the first American Christian foreign mission agency. It was proposed in 1810 by recent graduates of Williams College and officially chartered in 1812. In 1961 it merged with other societies to form the United Church Board for World...

 who met with a more hostile reception. According to Ida Pfeiffer:
"Some time before the arrival of the missionaries some Mohammedan priests had made their appearance in the country, accompanied by a band of armed men, and had forced them by fire and sword to accept their religion...When, therefore, the unfortunate Americans presented themselves as religious teachers, the Battakers imagined they were going to have a repetition of the same scenes, and resolving to be beforehand with their tormentors, they killed them and ate them up."


Herman Neubronner van der Tuuk
Herman Neubronner van der Tuuk
Herman Neubronner van der Tuuk was a Bible translator and linguist specialising in the languages of the Dutch East Indies.-Early years and studies:...

 was employed by the Nederlands Bijbel Genootschap (Netherlands Bible Society) in the 1850s to produce a Batak–Dutch grammar-book and a dictionary, which enabled future Dutch and German missionaries to undertake the conversion of the Toba and Simalungan Batak.

The first German missionaries to the Lake Toba region arrived in 1861, and a mission was established in 1881 by Dr. Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen
Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen
Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen was a German Lutheran missionary to Sumatra who also translated the New Testament into the native Batak language. Stephen Neill, a historian of missions, considered Nommensen one of the greatest missionaries of all time...

 of the German Rhenish Missionary Society
Rhenish Missionary Society
The Rhenish Missionary Society was one of the largest missionary societies in Germany. Formed from smaller missions founded as far back as 1799, the Society was amalgamated on 23 September 1828, and its first missionaries were ordained and sent off to South Africa by the end of the year.The...

. The New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 was first translated into Toba Batak by Dr. Nommensen in 1869 and a translation of the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 was completed by P. H. Johannsen in 1891. The complete text was printed in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 script in Medan
Medan
- Demography :The city is Indonesia's fourth most populous after Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bandung, and Indonesia's largest city outside of Java island. Much of the population lies outside its city limits, especially in Deli Serdang....

 in 1893, although H. O. Voorma describes the translation as “not easy to read, it is rigid and not fluent, and sounds strange to the Batak…[with] a number of errors in the translation.”

The Toba and Karo Bataks accepted Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 rapidly and by the early 20th century it had become part of their cultural identity.

This period was characterized by the arrival of Dutch colonists and while most Bataks did not oppose the Dutch, the Toba Batak fought a guerrilla war that lasted into the early 20th century and ended only with the death in 1907 of their charismatic priest-warrior-king Si Singamangaraja XII, who had battled the Dutch during the First Toba War with both magic and weaponry.

Batak churches

The Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) Church was established in Balige
Balige
Balige is a town in North Sumatra province of Indonesia and it is the seat of Toba Samosir Regency....

 in September, 1917. By the late 1920s a nursing school was training nurse midwives there. In 1941, the Gereja Batak Karo Protestan (GBKP) was established. Although missionaries ceded much power to Batak converts in the first decades of the 20th century, Bataks never pressured the missionaries to leave and only took control of church activities as a result of thousands of foreign missionaries being interned or forced to leave after the 1942 invasion of Sumatra by the Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese.

The Gereja Kristen Protestan Simalungun, originally part of the HKBP and preaching in Batak Toba language, eventually became a distinctively Simalungun church, adopting Simalungun customs and language, before finally incorporating as GKPS in 1963.

Islam

The Mandailing and Angkola people, occupying the southern Batak lands, came under the influence of the neighbouring Islamic Minangkabau people as a result of the Padri War
Padri War
The Padri War was fought from 1803 until 1837 in West Sumatra between two rival muslim factions. The Dutch intervened from 1821 and helped the Adats defeat the Padri faction.-Background:...

 (1821–1837). Tens of thousands of Mandailing were forcibly converted to Islam, repudiating their traditional Batak faith. Some Mandailing had previously converted to Islam, but the Padri war was a watershed event, with the Padri Wahabbis suppressing traditional adat
Adat
Adat in Indonesian-Malay culture is the set of cultural norms, values, customs and practices found among specific ethnic groups in Indonesia, the southern Philippines and Malaysia...

 and promoting 'pure' Islamic faith. Over time Mandailing Islam, has been brought closer to the predominant Southeastern Shafi`i school of Islam as a result of Mandailing discourse with other Islamic practitioners and the practice of hajj
Hajj
The Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is one of the largest pilgrimages in the world, and is the fifth pillar of Islam, a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so...

, although traditional elements remain, such as dividing inheritance among all children, a Mandailing rather than Islamic practice. Islam caused the decline in importance of marga, with many Mandailing abandoning their marga in favour of Muslim names, much less so among the Angkola to their North.
The advent of Islam also caused the relegation of the datuk to a medicine man, with traditional rice-planting ceremonies and other such remnants of traditional culture deemed incompatbile with Islam. The 'pasusur begu', a ceremony invoking ancestors to aid the community, was also suppressed. Other aspects of adat were however tolerated, with the Mandailing Islamic ideology placing adat on the same level as Islamic law, as in contrast with the Minang practice of placing Islamic law above adat. In more recent times, learned Islamic scholars (ulama) studying abroad, have suggested that many traditional Mandailing practices, such as the 'Raja' hereditary leaders, were in conflict with Islam, being indicative of 'pele begu'. The Islamist ulama were in conflict for authority with the Namora-Natora, the traditional village legal practitioners, who were influenced by adat as much as Islam.

Christian missionaries had been active among the northern Mandailing from 1834 onwards, but their progress was restricted by the Dutch government, who feared conflict between newly converted Christians and Muslims. In addition, the lingua franca of the government was Malay, associated with Muslims, as were government civil servants, creating the perception that Islam was the religion of modernity and progress. Missionaries determined that resistance among the Muslim Mandailing to Christianity was strong, and the missionaries abandoned them as 'unreachable people', moving north to evangelize the Toba.

At the turn of the 20th century, nearly all Mandailing and Angkola were Muslims. Despite this, the Dutch administration them as part of the Bataklanden, and therefore heathen or Christian. This perception was an inaccurate one, and many Mandailing strongly rejected the 'Batak' label. Abdullah Lubis, writing in the 1920s, claimed that while the Mandailing followed Batak marga practice, they had never followed the Batak religion, and that the Mandailing people pre-dated the Toba, having acquired marga directly from 'Hindu' visitors. In the Dutch census, the Mandailing objected strongly to being listed in the census as 'Batak Mandailing'. Mandailing in Malaysia (who migrated in the years following the Padri war), had no such objection to their being deemed 'Malays', and indeed Malaysian Mandailing retain little of their distinct identity, partly due to a British colonial policy of rice-land ownership restrictions for all but Malay-speaking Muslims, and the disapproval of 'Batak' Muslim practices by the existing Malay Muslim population.

Other influences

Modern Batak people are subject to religious influences through marriage and migration. Formerly Christian villages may, through migration of Muslim outsiders, lose their explicitly Christian identity, with pork excluded from wedding feasts in favour of meats acceptable to Islam.

See also

  • Batak architecture
    Batak architecture
    Batak architecture refers to the related architectural traditions and designs of the various Batak peoples of North Sumatra, Indonesia. There are six groups of Batak who speak separate but related languages: the Angkola and the Mandailing to the south, the Toba, and to the north the Pakpak/Dairi,...

  • Batak script
  • Batak in Singapore
  • List of Batak people
  • Marga (Batak)
    Marga (Batak)
    Marga is a term in Batak societies referring to a clan name. The term is derived either from the Sanskrit varga, meaning company, party, or group, or, more likely, from the Sanskrit marga, meaning 'road, way or path', referring to a people of 'one origin'.Batak marga are patrilineal...

  • Tunggal panaluan
    Tunggal panaluan
    A tunggal panaluan is a magic staff used by shamans of the Batak people, who live in the highlands of North Sumatra, Indonesia. Traditionally the tunggal panaluan it is made from wood carved with human figures and embellished with horsehair and cooked human brain, both procured from sacrificial...


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